As we enter 2014, we ask several notable Hillsborough County residents to look into their crystal balls and forecast the promise, potential and possible pitfalls that lie on the horizon. Here are their visions on a range of topics including the environment, Bollywood and education.
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STATE POLITICS: The governor's race tops a year for opportunity.
State Rep. Janet Cruz
State House, District 62
As an election year, 2014 could mean big changes in state politics.
"With a governor's race on the horizon," said state Rep. Janet Cruz, "we have to have some great public debate on what's needed to make Florida a better state."
Cruz, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods north of downtown Tampa to Egypt Lake and includes part of neighborhoods such as Seminole Heights, West Tampa and Town 'N Country, said she hopes to take advantage of those discussions.
"We're hoping for better outcomes in 2014," Cruz said. "For a new governor to bring new changes the people are expecting."
That said, much of the major issues legislators will likely focus on this year, she said, are continuations of old concerns.
There will be more discussion on the topic of affordable health care, she said. As well as closer looks at the expansion of gaming in the state.
"Expanding gaming is revenue dollars for the state, so the state makes more money," Cruz said. "But do we want to be known as a gaming state, is what Floridians have to ask themselves. Or, is it okay to expand gaming in Miami Beach but not our neighborhood?"
Legislators will also look at concerns surrounding flood insurance, Cruz said.
"What we as state legislators can do to protect Floridians from these flood insurance hikes that are happening," Cruz said.
And, like many of her peers, Cruz also has a few personal goals for the year, including pushing forward a business bill that would provide tax incentives for large businesses that support small Florida-based businesses, as well as a fair pay act for women.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to the Legislature in Tallahassee," she said.
Shelley Rossetter, Times staff writer
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TEMPLE TERRACE: Pressing mixed-use development for a livable downtown.
Temple Terrace mayor
Though the city and the developer of its ambitious Downtown Temple Terrace project have long been at odds over what would make the project profitable, Mayor Frank Chillura said he's convinced that staying true to residents' original vision will bring success.
"And their vision is basically to have that mixed-use, viable, walkable Main Street, and that's what we want to create.''
But as 2014 dawns, the big question is how much longer the project, which stretches along the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River, will remain idle.
The city and Vlass Group, the developer, appear headed to court to break up the partnership, and a key point of contention has been the look of the residence buildings the developer had planned to build in the northeast corner of the property. Vlass has said a mixed-use plan such as what the city wants, with retail businesses on the first floor, would not be successful in a depressed economy.
Though they aren't in a mixed-use configuration, retail shops fill all the available space in the section of property that Vlass has completed, the section anchored by the Sweetbay Supermarket.
"That tends to tell me that there is a demand," Chillura said. "It may not be as strong as it used to be . . . or the asking price might not be as high, but there is a demand for it if it is priced right.''
Chillura says the project of offices, shops, restaurants and residences, along with a cultural center, is critical to the city's efforts to market itself as a great place to live.
"What I hope to see is that it be resolved quickly,'' Chillura said.
Beyond that, Chillura said a new effort to market the city seems off to a good start. He would like to make it easier to attract residents and businesses by streamlining the application and building permit process.
He also wants the city to consider lowering its tax millage rate. The current rate is 6.43 for $1,000 in value — or about $640 on a home assessed at $100,000 — the highest in Hillsborough County, which, he noted, doesn't help attract home buyers.
Ultimately, Chillura said, Temple Terrace needs to expand its territory. He wants to see a serious effort to annex vacant land east of the city, which he predicts will be an area of growth.
"I think annexation is a very big part of the city's future."
Philip Morgan, Times staff writer
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SOUTHSHORE: Securing commuter transportation to match vigorous growth.
Hillsborough County commissioner, District 1, SouthShore area
County Commissioner Sandra Murman has possessed an affinity for the SouthShore since the 1990s when she served as a state representative, but her optimism for the southern part of Hillsborough County's coastal community has never been higher.
With the additions of Amazon, St. Joseph's Hospital-South and the expansion of Hillsborough Community College, comes a promise of new growth that has reinvigorated the community.
"Everything's really starting to take shape," Murman said. "The planning for the growth and development, the picture is becoming a little more clear for the direction it's going to take."
Though Amazon has not yet released a timetable for completion and its opening, the announcement of the facility is a catalyst for growth, including residential, commercial, retail and more, Murman said.
"The only challenge I see right now is getting the funding we need for the bus system," Murman said. "We really need to develop more bus transit down in that community, and it's got to be a commuter system."
Murman pointed specifically to high school students who are earning college credits at HCC. Unlike their counterparts in Tampa who have access to public transportation, students in SouthShore who don't have a car have a harder time getting around and getting to the campus.
The need for an extended transportation system is also linked with the commercial and residential growth expected to come to the area in 2014.
"If you ask people in the area, they don't really want to go to Brandon any more to shop or buy their groceries," Murman said. "They want to do what they need in their lives right here in their community, but they want to be able to get around."
Big Bend Road is going to be the main corridor, similar to Lumsden Road and Bloomingdale Avenue in Brandon. A possible interchange will also be added to aid traffic flow on each side of the interstate, Murman said.
"It's all exciting. I see a whole new area of my community, it's really going to blossom," Murman said. "They have hardly any problems, it's almost all opportunity."
Caitlin Johnston, Times staff writer
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MIDDLETON HIGH: Improving academics in tandem with school's goals.
Middleton High School principal
Every morning on the PA system, Middleton High School principal Owen Young shares an encouraging message with students. He knows their lives outside the school's safe, structured walls can be very different from their lives inside the East Tampa school.
Looking ahead to 2014, Young sees a need for balance, in how teachers address the varying needs of students who struggle and students who succeed, and in striving for learning gains but also for proficiency.
"As we look at Common Core and FCAT 2.0, making learning gains isn't enough right now," he said. "Making learning gains is one component, but we have to continue to tear away at the barriers keeping them from being proficient."
Collaboration among staff and creating a set of core values everyone at the school believes in is essential, he said. But it's also about data.
"You have to have the student's best interest at heart," he said. "As a family, you have to share that spirit of collaboration, and work to look at best practices, really grounded in data."
Sometimes, he said, that means difficult discussions.
"What we're doing here is nothing new to the field of education," Young said. "What we're doing is aligning all those components, to function in a manner that's healthy for the school culture and academic growth."
He sees Middleton, with its successful technology magnet programs and its traditional student population that has often underperformed, as a turnaround model for the rest of the country.
Young was hired as principal in 2009 after the Hillsborough County School District put together a team of specialists to help get the struggling school back on track. The school grade fell from a C in 2010 to a D in 2011, then bounced back to a B in 2012.
"We approach it from the aspect that all our children have room for growth," he said.
Helping students toward being college- and career-ready will continue to be an important part of education in the county, he said.
"We can make learning gains all day long," Young said. "If they're not ready to graduate in four years, that speaks to our need to figure out something else to help get them over the hump."
Keeley Sheehan, Times staff writer
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BOLLYWOOD: An international spotlight comes with India's "Oscars."
International Indian Film Academy Awards organizer
In 2014, Tampa residents will witness a international spectacle replete with a designer fashion show, rock concert, technical awards presentation and glamorous "green carpet" event reminiscent of Hollywood's Academy Awards.
It's the 2014 International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Weekend & Awards to Tampa, and from all accounts, Bollywood's impending arrival should not be underestimated.
"It's like our India Festival times 2,000," said Chetan "Jason" Shah, past president of Gujarati Samaj of Tampa Bay.
"Wikipedia may say India has 15 or 20 religions," Shah added, "but only two matter: cricket and Bollywood. That's what keeps the country together even in stressful times."
The extravagance will be all the more remarkable when paired with the realization it started with a whisper.
A vendor at Tampa's annual India Festival in 2012 asked Shah why Tampa couldn't host the event, launching Shah on a mission to bring the event to town.
Shah, a Tampa Realtor and entrepreneur, quietly researched IIFA's gala ceremonial events held since 2000. So quietly, even his wife, Shreya, and their two teenage children didn't know he began spending 10 hours a day on feasibility studies back in November 2012.
Extrapolating economic data reported by Toronto 2011 organizers and other host cities, he predicts upward of 30,000 visitors will generate at least $30 million in Tampa.
Movie stars, producers, filmmakers, paparazzi and starstruck fans from around the world would boost tourism 35 percent that week, creating $150 million in public relations value.
With every text (160,000), email (400,000) and personal dollar invested, Shah grew more convinced that "both the Indian and mainstream community" would welcome the festivities.
Shah's vision was real enough for him and 14 other city and county officials to attend the July 2013 awards weekend in Macau.
Shah and his wife paid for 11 of the travelers, "without knowing if there was light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
Organizers leaped into action after the IIFA signed a confidential contract in August, planning 30-plus associated events. The only detractor: the weather, specifically hurricane season.
Such fears sparked a hasty date change to April 24 through 27, from an earlier date in June. With the timetable now at warp speed, Shah took a step back, handing the spokesman role to his sister's husband, cardiologist-philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel, a major underwriter of the weekend.
But he is proud and humbled by what he set in motion.
"I have made a half-million relationships since Nov. 6, 2012. This is God-sent, otherwise it would not be possible."
Amy Scherzer, Times staff writer
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HEALTH CARE: Redefining where and how patients receive medical treatment.
Public health professor, University of South Florida
So, what does 2014 have in store for the ambitious, yet troubled federal health care law?
"Confusion," said Jay Wolfson, a public health care professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The 2013 rollout of the Affordable Care Act was plagued by numerous problems, most notably with the Healthcare.gov website where people need to sign up for new health insurance plans.
"Now, a lot of the players — physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, patients and their families — will try to figure out how to operate within the (Affordable Care Act)," Wolfson said. "It's not going to be a seamless transition."
Physicians, for example, will be figuring out which insurance plans they're on. Some hospitals may learn they're not on certain health insurance networks. And patients, many of whom have not previously had health coverage, will need to learn how to use that coverage.
Hospitals will be greatly affected by the new health care law, Wolfson added. Their reimbursement rates will be reduced, and more care will continue to be moved into other settings, such as surgery centers, skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers.
"The hospital does not need to be at the center of the table anymore," Wolfson said.
More health care will also be delivered at home.
"We have the technological capability," Wolfson said. "Why should a 70-year-old patient with a hip replacement have to get driven to the hospital for a post-op checkup, when it can be done at home, online with a camera?"
Wolfson also expects more care being provided by nonphysician professionals, including nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants.
He likened the new health care law to riding a bicycle.
"We've all ridden bicycles. But now, everybody has been given a new bicycle, but it doesn't come with clear instructions, and it's not fully operational yet," he said. "It's going to take awhile. There's going to be a couple years of education."
Richard Martin, Times staff writer
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MOSI: Blending science and the real world with cutting-edge discoveries.
President, Museum of Science and Industry
Coming in summer, children and adults will be able to get certified using a 3-D printer with their own designs at the Museum of Science & Industry, said Wit Ostrenko, museum president.
"We want to get people curious and excited about many things. An initiative we're starting this year will give certifications in robotics and skills like designs for automobile and medical devices," he said.
"We/>"We're moving away from focusing on entertainment and more on what it means to you. How you can be a contributor. Creating new jobs and equipping people to do them. Much like Leonardo da Vinci wouldn't separate all one thought process, we're pulling a smattering and a smidge of many things: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
"We want to blur the lines between hard core science and other fields. We plan to dedicate a portion of our 73 acres as a STEAM zone, to support this initiative, eventually, with a high school where kids will get work experience . . . with practical skills such as learning to weld and to run a milling machine, he said.
"If they want to be an architect, they can try it out in the real world before they commit. They'll get their hands dirty and their feet wet."
Elisabeth Parker, Times staff writer
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ENERGY: Reduce energy costs with innovation to create jobs.
Tampa Bay resident and environmental lobbyist Susan Glickman hopes 2014 is the year the state begins to seriously address pressing energy issues.
Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, is optimistic state legislators will begin to make important policy decisions based on science and facts instead of political contributions and partisanship.
"We have the solutions," said Glickman, who spends much of her time lobbying lawmakers in Tallahassee. "Whether we're dealing with pollution coming from wastewater or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we have clean technology solutions to fix the problems and in the process, we can create a whole new economy."
Glickman points to LumaStream, an innovative St. Petersburg company she calls the "Intel chip of LED lighting" as an example of how clean technologies can protect our environment and create local jobs.
LumaStream's patented low-voltage software-controlled lighting makes LEDs increasingly more cost-effective.
"They have enormous potential to meet our energy need and create jobs right here in our community," said Glickman, noting that LumaStream already has a job training partnership with St. Petersburg College. "Florida could become a hub for innovative, clean technologies. There is a unique opportunity to cultivate breakout companies. We are the gateway to Latin America.
"It's time to move down that path and not be stuck in the past."
Yet Glickman says the path forward has been impeded by big utilities that rely on an outdated business model that rewards capital expenditures.
"The more they spend, the more they make. So naturally they want to build power plants when we could meet our energy needs more cost-effectively with efficiency and renewables. We must realign the incentives."
A change not only would create economic development, but because renewable energy such as solar power has become cheaper, long term, consumers can save on their energy bills.
"Big utilities in the state, with the cooperation of politicians, have kept the solar market locked out," Glickman said. "Energy from the sun can help to power our lives. Ignoring it costs Floridians jobs."
So where does Glickman's optimism come from in a state that has been on a downward slope in the last few years in terms of protecting the environment, buying land and moving toward clean energy? She thinks the public understands the potential and is demanding alternatives.
"I think there's an opportunity for change if people, your readers for instance, let their elected officials know that it's time to move on these important changes," Glickman said. "There's a pathway forward to do the right thing, protect the planet while creating jobs.
"We can do this."
Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer